LONG BEACH – By the action of Long Beach Poly’s women’s volleyball team on Thursday night, you’ll know the team is in for a pre-season game and not the opening game of the CIF-Domain knockout. Male.

But there is no relief after a murder; just excited. No worries after an error or miscommunication; only a quick laugh, a brief talk to clear up the confusion and move on to the next point.

In short, the Jackrabbits won 3-0 – 25-20, 25-20, 25-23 – over Mira Costa in the opening round, setting up a Division 1 quarter-final with top-ranked Mater Dei.

Not indifferent Poly; they were completely unfazed by the moment.

Head coach Leland McGrath tried to coach that, but he said after the win, “I don’t want them to be any more calm.”

The thing is, this Jackrabbits team has a lot of veterans.

Seniors like Allanah Cutler and Liz Schuster set the tone for the team. They’ve played so many playoffs over the last three years, they’re not going to act differently just because it’s post-season.

So even when Mira Costa took a 12-6 lead in the third set, Poly didn’t panic. Not just fingers. No hanging head. Players like Cutler and Onye Ofoegbu made only the necessary plays, trying to score one point at a time until the Jackrabbits regained the lead.

Schuster credits this mentality to McGrath.

“He always told us we had to breathe, we had to breathe air,” said the senior center. “When we panic, things don’t go well for us. So we said to each other, ‘It’s okay, we have the next one, we have the next one.’ And we continue.”

McGrath gives the senior a lot of control and influence. After the first set, it was Schuster, not the coach, who assessed her teammates on their performance and points to emphasize in the second set.

The head coach hopes pre-season that his veterans will take on this responsibility and use it to welcome a number of young players into the team.

“They are insidious veterans; They’ve been in a lot of knockout matches. They know what they’re into in a knockout,” McGrath said. “The older players did a great job in including the juniors. They are very tight with the older players. The older players help the younger players manage their emotions.”

That was clear on Thursday, with freshman Adonia Faumina starting for Jackrabbits and finishing with nine kills.

Once on the bench, Faumina will lead her older teammates in cheers as if she were the senior.

Faumina said: “Playing with the older girls is really cool. “I can learn from them and become better.”

Jackrabbits will face the final test on Wednesday as the Division 1 knockout rounds resume. A trip to Orange County to face Mater Dei, the No. 2 team in the country according to MaxPreps.com, awaits Poly.



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